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Destructive winds whipped several wildland fires on Saturday

Wind gusts exceeded 80 mph in some areas around Great Falls
Posted at 10:55 AM, Feb 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-02 12:55:30-05

GREAT FALLS — Powerful winds rocked parts of Montana on Saturday, toppling trees, knocking out power, and causing "brown-outs" of dust that caused several crashes in and around Great Falls. Wind gusts exceeded 80 miles per hour in some areas around Great Falls and along the northern Rocky Mountain Front, and even topped 100 mph in parts of Glacier County.

The dry conditions and gusty winds also led to several wildland fires, keeping fire crews very busy.

Belt Rural Volunteer Fire Department said in a Facebook post on Sunday that they responded to two fires and one semi accident on Saturday. Just before 2 p.m., a mutual aid call came in for a wildland fire in Judith Basin County. Belt responded with two brush trucks, two water tenders, and a command vehicle to the large fast-moving fire. Firefighters from Malmstrom Air Force Base also responded.

While at the scene of the fire, Belt Rural and Belt Ambulance responded to a semi rollover accident, and said that thankfully there were no injuries in that accident.

A third call was dispatched for a fire in the timber near Tiger Butte Mountain in the Monarch Fire District. The fire was very active, but did not spread rapidly. One brush truck responded and was canceled on scene by Monarch fire.

There were no injuries reported in any of the fires, and no reports of damaged homes or buildings. BRVFD expressed its gratitude to Sand Coulee Fire for assisting with traffic control on Highway 89 when they responded to the second fire.

There was also a wildland fire near the Spion Kop Wind Farm between Raynesford and Geyser, and also a ranch fire near Montague, between Highwood and Geraldine. There have not been any reports of injuries in any of these incidents. The Montana Department of Transportation said on Saturday night that the Lode Road Fire, which started around 7:30 p.m. north of Harlowton, become hazardous enough to close the stretch of Highway 191 between the towns of Garneill and Harlowton.

NorthWestern Energy was busy all day responding to outages.

The National Weather Service in Great Falls reported that the Deep Creek weather station south of Browning recorded a peak wind gust of 106 mph. Babb was hit by a peak gust of 92 mph, and Browning recorded an 89 mph gust. At Great Falls International Airport, the peak gust was 82 mph, and in Choteau, a gust of 75 mph was recorded.

The powerful winds kicked up dust along several major roads, triggering several crashes along US Highway 87 between Great Falls and Fort Benton. Just after 5 p.m., the Cascade County Sheriff's Office closed US Highway 87, and Highway 89 from the Sand Coulee junction to Belt. The Sheriff's Office said: "There have been numerous vehicle accidents with injuries, these crashes involve two Sheriff’s patrol cars. Two deputies and one citizen are being treated for minor injuries." Just after 10 p.m., Sheriff Jesse Slaughter announced that the roads had re-opened.